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The Joy Of Healing: How Summer Fun Heals the Heart

What comes to mind when you think of summer? For me, it stirs up nostalgia of childhood feelings of freedom, knowing that those endless days were all mine to fill with family and friends as we shared the sunshine. While “adulting” doesn’t always leave room for that kind of freedom, the promise of summer still gives us so much to celebrate.

beach ball in pool

In TCM, summer belongs to the Fire element. It is about expansion, outward expression, activity and joy. The heart is the ruler of this time. It houses the shen, or spirit, and this is the time to let the spirit dance and frolic and feel as free as possible. With the fire element in balance, the heart is happy, the mind is clear and the body maintains health with a blend of movement and stillness, excitement and peace. Summer is nature’s way of healing the heart by providing the ideal setting for all things heart-related!

So get pumped up for summer and all the healing it brings via:

Sunshine

What better way to bask in the healing power of summer than by soaking up the healing rays of sunshine. Obviously stop before you get burned, but don’t be afraid to feel that shine and let it in. When UVB rays hit human skin, they help to produce Vitamin D3, which reduces risk of heart disease, stroke, and hypertension . Those same UVB rays cause the skin to release beta-endorphins which promote natural pain-relief and a sense of well-being. Sunlight also helps the body to release nitrogen oxides, which opens up arterial flow and have anti-inflammatory effects. The exposure to sunlight is also required to set our natural circadian rhythms which regulate our sleep and wake cycles. For those of us who experience cold winters, the warmth of sunshine is one of the most welcome feelings and one of the best ways to support our fire element.

Activity

The energy of summer in Chinese medicine is considered very yang in nature. Fire is the element of extreme yang, and has a radiating, dispersing power. Think of the lively dance of fire burning. This is the time to move, get our heart pumping, and blood circulating. This is time for focusing on cardiovascular health! Summer makes this a much more inviting task with outdoor sports, swimming, hiking, or simply a walk on a warm summer night. And don’t forget to dance..never forget to dance.

Beauty of the Season

Taking care of the heart in Chinese Medicine includes making the spirit feel at home in the heart and the spirit craves beauty. Look at how the earth changes in summer. Flowers bloom, colors come alive, birds sing; there is art and music everywhere. This is a time for aesthetics and we all have our own taste. Get out and enjoy whatever stimulates your mind and heals your heart. Admire nature’s sunset paintings, smell the sweet perfume of the flowers, and let your spirit sing with the sounds of the season. Celebrate your own creative expression along with the energy of the season.

Community

The sound that belongs to the heart according to TCM is laughter and the emotion is joy. It’s no wonder that joy feels best when shared. It’s also no wonder that researchers have found that the quality of family relationships and social connection is a strong factor in heart disease prevention.  So, as summer provides the warm inviting opportunities to get together, treasure your family and friends (and pets!) and find ways to connect, laugh and share your joy!

So, what are you doing this Summer? We’d like to know.

One thing that I may suggest, would be to get yourself back in here for an acupuncture summer-time tune-up! That’s one of the easiest ways that we can help manage your health and well-being. Give us a call today to schedule up your tune-up.

Summer’s Bounty

Diet Tips for Staying Balanced in the Season of Abundant Yang

The season of “Yang within Yang” is upon us.  Yang energy is bright, fiery and hot like the midday sun.  Yang is the counter-balance to Yin.  Yin is expressed in the cooling, calming energies of life.  Together, Yin & Yang, like night & day, represent the dynamic balance between the opposing (but complementary) forces that make up all of existence.  These forces are ceaselessly intermingling in a sacred dance of life’s cycles.  The cycle of the seasons is a perfect demonstration of this balance in motion, and as we turn the corner into Summer, we reach a pinnacle in the cycle – the Summer Solstice. 

strawberries

Summer is known as the “Great Yang” season because of this peak in the Yang energy: the Sun (which embodies ultimate Yang energy) is closest to the Earth, and the day (also associated with Yang in Traditional Chinese Medicine) is the longest at this time of year.  As humans, we are part of nature, so these forces exist in us just as they do in our environment.

With each changing season, Traditional Chinese Medicine offers lifestyle guidance to tune our own energy cycles to the world around us so that we can live in health and harmony.  One of the branches of this ancient medicine and health philosophy is dietetics.

Here are a few things to consider when adjusting one’s diet to the energy of Summer:

Seasonal Fruits, Veggies & Herbs:

Time to hit the Farmer’s Markets again!  Summer is full of fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs that help to keep us hydrated and helps to disperse our Qi to match the light, ascending energy of Yang.  Nature knows best, so pay attention to what is growing well in your area – it may be exactly what your body needs to be more aligned with the energy of the season.

Heart & Small Intestine Considerations:

The Heart and Small Intestine are the paired Yin and Yang organs associated with Summer and its element of fire.  The Heart houses the Mind/Spirit and its job is to govern blood, while the Small Intestine’s job is to sort and process the food received from the Stomach.  Blood-enriching foods (think dark, leafy greens and other iron-rich food sources) are important to ensure a safe haven for the Mind/Spirit to rest, as the blood is where the Mind/Spirit resides.  Red foods (cherries, strawberries and goji berries) support the fire element, so it’s no coincidence that these foods are rich in antioxidants credited with cardiovascular benefits.  

Timing is Everything: 

11am-1pm is Heart time according to the 24-hour cycle of energies in our bodies, also known as the “Qi Clock”.  Lunch time (the time when the energy is strongest in the Heart meridian) is also a time when our digestive fire is strong, so it’s a perfect time to enjoy a mid-day meal!  Since 1pm-3pm is Small Intestine time, this is the time to sort and absorb food, rest, and allow our bodies to process nutrients. 

Presentation of Food:

Be mindful of aesthetics when serving yourself or others food in all seasons, but especially summer, as beauty pleases the Heart.  Consider garnishing your dishes with a little extra love, like a sprinkle of sesame seeds or a fresh edible flower <3


Summer Recipe: 

While a soup may seem more winter-appropriate, sipping a warm soup can actually help the body stay hydrated and also induce a gentle perspiration to keep the body cool.  Adding slightly cooling (in nature, not temperature) foods and herbs to the soup helps to balance its warm temperature. 

Here’s a simple Summer soup to assist the heart in blood circulation and Qi dispersion while helping to eliminate excess heat: 

  • 6 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 cup beets
  • 1 cup carrots
  • 1 cup corn
  • 1 tablespoon roasted sesame oil
  • ½ oz carthamus flowers (commonly known as safflower, this is an herb for blood circulation in TCM)

Cut the beets and carrots into cubes and stew in the stock for 15 minutes.  Cut the corn off the cob and place the carthamus flowers in a cheesecloth.  Add the corn, carthamus sachet, and sesame oil.  Simmer for an additional 5 minutes.  Serves 2-3.

Easing Transitions with the Earth Element

We are all familiar with Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter, but did you know that Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) includes a fifth season?  According to Chinese Medical theory, the fifth season is actually that important time between the seasons, where we ‘return to center’.  About two to three weeks before the beginning of each season is a time of transition.   During this time, one can balance their Qi (so as to adjust to the upcoming season) or one may find themselves more susceptible to the shifting energies of the seasonal change, and therefore more vulnerable to dis-ease.   

lemon on pink background

Each season correlates with an elemental energy.  Spring belongs to the wood element, Summer to fire, Fall to metal and Winter to water.  The transitional time between the seasons rightfully belongs to the Earth element, as this is the time when the seasonally-dominant energy returns to the Earth to be transformed into the next seasonal energy.

The Earth Element is generated and managed in the body by the Spleen and Stomach.  These organs are in the business of metamorphosis.  As digestive organs (according to TCM), they transport and transform the food we eat into nutrition to build our blood, nourish our cells, and provide energy.  The Spleen governs the muscle strength and tone, as well as being associated with digestion and energy levels.  Its associated orifice is the mouth and Spleen Qi is what produces Blood, according to TCM.  The Spleen is also known for housing the intellect (Yi) and is involved with the thinking aspect of spirit.  The color of the Earth element is yellow and the taste associated with the Spleen is sweet. 

The Chinese Lunar Calendar sets the start of the seasons earlier than our Gregorian calendar, so if we are following the seasons according to Chinese Medicine, we can anticipate the start of Fall this year around Aug 7th. The period about 18 days prior to that date (beginning around mid-July) is called Late Summer, and this is the time to pay special attention to the energy of transition. 

The benefit of nourishing our Earth element during this time is the promotion of balance and stability for periods of change.  The Earth element represents our center stance from which we can safely assess the next move. The importance of core stability rings true whether we are talking about physical activity (ie strong abdominal and mid-low back muscles) or more subtle energy dynamics.

Here are some tips to help nourish your Earth element:

1) Diet:

Limit or avoid damp-generating, cold foods (ice cream is a perfect example), as it puts a burden on the Spleen which prefers warm and dry conditions.  It’s also advisable to eat breakfast between 7am to 9am; this is Stomach time according to the Qi Clock.  Limit or avoid processed sugars while enjoying the natural balance of sweetness from the Earth with foods like apples, carrots, and sweet potatoes.  Eat more yellow foods during this season: bananas, yellow peppers, lemons, etc.

2) Release Worry Patterns: 

The Spleen houses the intellect and is responsible for thought, but can be weighed down by over-thinking which can slow its ability to transform our food into useful energy.  Most of us can think of times when worry or rumination led to unpleasant digestive experiences, so it is useful to find ways to shift patterns of over-thinking and worry.  (Cue the serenity prayer…)

3) Earthing: 

Go straight to the source!  Get those bare feet on the ground (pesticide-free please).  For those of us who are urban-dwellers, parks and backyards offer nice patches of grass and dirt to ground in.  Research shows that this seemingly simple practice provides innumerable health benefits.

For more tips or to receive a detailed intake and consultation, schedule your appointment today!

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